What Would Shakespeare Have Blogged About?

I had my first blogging-free Sunday for six months yesterday. And while I didn’t keep to my plan to stay offline the whole day it did give me a chance to catch up on other blogs of the past week.
If you’re like me you’ll see a blog that you think will interest others, bookmark it, then be distracted by other things and never get back to it. So I’m trying a curatorial approach to start the year, where I pick out some of the sites that caught my eye this past week and leave you to decide if their openers are intriguing enough to grab your attention.

***

Living in a predominantly Muslim country on the edge of the Sahara is no place for someone who likes a drink. Outside the tourist zone alcohol is pretty much unavailable, simply because there is no demand for it.
     Fortunately my idea of a good time is a cold Sprite or a frothy latte. That said, as a rare treat I like nothing more than a velvety grand reserve rioja or a single small ice-cold beer. My total consumption in 2011 was less than five glasses, all on separate occasions!
But Claude Nougat’s post Italy, the Land of Wine is Turning to Beer! caught my attention this week.

Beer drinking started growing in Italy fifteen years ago and now it is fast becoming a fad. In that time, over three hundred microbreweries were started. According to a recent study, their number stood at 397 in 2011 and rising. None of them suffered from the 2008 recession.

While fast rising, this is still a small sector: it amounts to a modest 1.5% of total production and sells only in specialized beer pubs and a few restaurants — and not in any supermarkets like industrial beers.
For example, in Rome, in the old part of town, you can go to a beer pub – the Open Baladin – that serves 40 different craft beers on tap, all of them Italian. They have an on-going “Winter Beer Fest” and I thought I’d try them out for lunch. I started walking from the Isola Tiberina. Here is a view of the island:

Join Claude for more scenery and food at:
http://claudenougat.blogspot.com/2012/01/italy-land-of-wine-is-turning-to-beer.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+blogspot%2FxnZjb+%28Claude+Nougat+-+The+Blog%29

***

Perhaps because it was the Christmas season food and drink featured heavily in my blog reading this week.

Lee Lopez dished up a recipe for Jake’s Scalloped Potatoes. Most of the time I make do with local foods (watch out for some real African recipes on my new blog site, launching very soon!) but occasionally I have to venture into the tourist zone, and there one can pick up a range of imported western foods, for a ridiculous price.

Jake’s Scalloped Potatoes

This is a recipe that doesn’t have any exact measurements. Maybe it’s a bit crazy to put it out, but it was too good to ignore. We had it for our Christmas with a prime rib and it was wonderful. It’s my son’s recipe and he just sort-of told me how to make it. This is the sort-of how to make it from me. It would also go good with left over ham. Do this one before the New Year’s resolution to diet hits, because there is nothing skinny about this.

As many russet potatoes as you need to make a nice size casserole or a small one.
1 lrg carton of heavy whipping cream
1 container of the good Parmesan cheese, shredded. The deli type.
Cheddar Cheese, which ever you like, mild or sharp
1 dollop of sour cream
Fresh Thyme
1 tsp Nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste. (Watch the salt, Parmesan can be salty.)

Check out the full details on Lee’s site.

http://leelopezauthor.blogspot.com/2011/12/jakes-scalloped-potatoes.html

***

Of course, being a writer / reader my attention was mainly on the writing world, and this post from Good eReader caught my attention. James Patterson sold two million ebooks in 2011 (5 million in total). He also sold 14 million paper books last year, just to keep things in perspective. But this shows clearly the expansion of the ebook market and that the trad publishers are taking it seriously.

Now Patterson’s writing, or rather the writing of the authors who churn out work under his brand, comes in for a lot of criticism for its formulaic style, its utter disregard for writers’ rules, and its story content.

Personally I find the attacks on Patterson distasteful. He doesn’t pretend to be Shakespeare. His writing may not be to everyone’s taste. But he’s obviously doing something very, very right.

He gives his readers what they want to read. Is that such a bad thing?

James Patterson is a literary juggernaut, pumping out a copious amount of books every month. He often works in collusion with various other co-writers to help with the workload such as Maxine Paetro and Michael Ledwidge. His publishing Little, Brown & Co. is a division of The Hachette Book Group and the company announced today that his ebook sales of topped 5 million purchased copies. What is surprising is explosive growth of e-readers during 2011 with 2 million of his digital sales occurring just last year.

This might seem like a high number of book sales and it is true he continues to lead the charts every month as a prominent bestseller. Truthfully over 14 million books in 38 different languages were sold last year in paperback form. Electronic Books may continue to gain momentum, but cheap throwaway books continue to make up the bulk of his sales. You only have to go as far as the beach, airport or holiday destination to see his books strewn about.

Read the rest here.
http://goodereader.com/blog/e-book-news/james-patterson-sees-explosive-growth-in-ebook-sales-tops-5-million-sold/

***

Okay, so James Patterson won’t be picking up the Nobel Prize for Literature any time soon. But this past week it emerged JRR Tolkein had been nominated, albeit fifty years ago, and rejected.

J. R. R. Tolkien may have won over millions of devoted fans across the globe with The Lord of the Rings, but to a small committee in Sweden known as the Nobel prize jury, his epic tale of Middle Earth just wasn’t up to scratch.

Newly declassified documents showing the inner workings of the world’s most prestigious literary prize have revealed that, 50 years ago, Tolkien was rejected because The Lord Of The Rings had ‘not in any way measured up to storytelling of the highest quality’.

Nominated by his friend C S Lewis – author of The Chronicles Of Narnia – in 1961, Tolkien was swiftly dismissed by the committee along with other lauded figures such as Graham Greene and EM Forster as they awarded that year’s prize to Yugoslavian writer Ivo Andrić instead.

Full story here:

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2012/01/06/tolkien-lord-of-the-ring-noble-prize-rejection_n_1188684.html?ref=mostpopular

Personally I’ve never read Tolkein, so make no judgment on the Nobel Committee’s observation that The Lord Of The Rings had “not in any way measured up to storytelling of the highest quality”.
But a reminder, whether its Tolkein or Patterson, that all reading is subjective.

***

I end with a couple of personal favourites:
Way back early last year the highly-regarded reviewer Red Adept gave our then unknown novel Sugar & Spice a respectable review and score, but marked us down for using British English spellings and because some British slang terms were lost on the American audience.
So it was a huge surprise when Red Adept announced the 2011 indie awards and Sugar & Spice picked up a top place in the mystery awards section.
Full story here:
http://redadeptreviews.com/2011-red-adept-reviews-indie-awards-mystery/

***

Here at MWi I pride myself on picking winners. Many writers I featured here in their early days went on to great success. But here’s one I spotted before their book was even published.

Let’s go back to January 1st, 2011. I had finished and re-finished Wearing the Cape, and while I turned to three other projects (to see which one would pop in my head), I sent query letters to close to 100 agents and publishing houses. The response was underwhelming if not unexpected. The odds of a literary agency taking a serious look at the first novel of an author writing in a very non-traditional genre were…not good. I should have been prepared to patiently query and wait for at least a year or three.
      But I wasn’t. Therein lies the story of Youwriteon.com and a review of the first 7,000 words by an English writer living in Africa. I love the internet. Long story short, Mark Williams (among other things, the co-author of Sugar and Spice, one of the UK’s top-selling ebooks in 2011) read my sample draft on a site dedicated to providing shared criticism for aspiring authors, and convinced me that, not only was Wearing the Cape publishable, it was self-publishable. Reading the full manuscript didn’t change his opinion, and the thoughts of someone whose own self-published book was climbing the Amazon rankings, well they have some weight. So I thought about it for all of January while learning everything I could about the new ebook self-publishing market.

See the rest here:
http://marionharmon.wordpress.com/2012/01/09/what-a-difference-a-year-makes/

I told Marion a year ago that his then unpublished and unwanted novel Wearing the Cape was far more than just a great book. It was a huge success story waiting to happen. Not just sequels, but spin-offs with the characters, and a transmedia dream franchise waiting to be discovered.
A year on the first book has topped the charts, the sequels have topped the charts, and the spin-off series are well advanced.

The transmedia franchise is just a matter of time.

***

But I end as I started, with food.
Cooking on charcoal burners and over open fires can be a long and arduous process. Finding the right ingredients at the right time can be even more of a challenge.
     It’s midwinter here in West Africa and one of the coldest on record. Temperatures drop to around 70F of a night and while that might be a dream for you in northern climes just now it’s scarf and gloves weather for the locals. So I’d been experimenting with some warming soup recipes.
And along came soup addict Conseulo Saah Baehr with this great recipe which has ingredients I can actually get hold of here.

Lately, I’m addicted to soup and eat it for breakfast and other times. I used to think I needed a lot of stuff to make soup. I used to think I needed a chicken or lamb bones or a leftover ham bone to make soup. With me, necessity was the mother of invention. I invented my quick soup because most of the time, I didn’t have the ingredients and I needed a soup fix immediately. Here’s my first instant soup recipe that takes about 4 minutes to prepare.

a can of whole tomatoes –
8 oz filtered water (omit if you like thicker soup)
1/2 cup of evaporated milk (evaporated milk has all the oomph of cream without the calories.)
two cloves garlic, splash of olive oil.
Puree the tomatoes and garlic in a blender. (I use the Oskar).
Put the puree in a pot. Add the water, milk and olive oil. Heat until it barely boils and you have good cream of tomato soup without any of the stuff they put in canned soup.

But Consuelo’s post is much more wide-ranging than soup recipes. Check it out at:
http://setthiswriterfree.blogspot.com/2012/01/power-of-soup-and-power-of-sound.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+setthiswriterfree+%28The+repurposed+writer%29

***

And so into 2012. A disruptive few weeks, but back to reality from today. It’s quite impossible to do justice to all the great sites I visited this past week, but hope at least one or two above will have found you heading over for more.

As writers we tend to write blogs about writing and read blogs about writing, but as some of the bloggers above show, there’s more to the writing life than just books. Marion G. Harmon was on his book this time, but often goes off-topic, notably on economics. It does us all good to have some variety in our blogs.

I wonder what Shakespeare would have blogged about?

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  1. Sonnets. He would have blogged a Sonnet of The Week, linked to other poets, put together a collection, etc.

    • Miriam Joy
    • January 9th, 2012

    I love Tolkien. Read the Hobbit when I was seven, start LotR on my eighth birthday (a limit set by my parents) – so coming up to exactly eight years!

    • I was “forced” to read The Hobbit when I was seven, by a stupid teacher who didn’t approve of The Magic Faraway Tree. I managed about three pages before embarking on a career of truancy from school which gave me plenty of free time to become Enid Blyton’s biggest fan.

      Had been allowed to read Tolkein in my own time I might have been his biggest fan too. Teachers like that should be subjected to cruel and inhuman punishments.

  2. I LOVE Tolkein, but Patterson’s never really been my thing … just goes to show how people’s tastes reflect prizes, eh? Epic posts though Mark, love the diversity! Now – let’s get this new year underway, wheeee!

    • A year ago. Ms Charley, I would have said give Patterson a try. I’d still say new writers can learn a lot from him. But there’s far too much incredible indie stuff out there to waste time on the trads.

  3. What great recipes. I might try Lee’s substituting evaporated milk, as Consuelo suggests.

    I’m not a big reader of Tolkein or Patterson, although I admire their storytelling abilities enormously. Interesting they have opposite writing styles. Tolkein was in love with words, and uses a whole lot of them. Patterson is the master of white space. Both write books that appeal to men as well as women (maybe more so) which may be part of their mass appeal.

    Your question about Shakespeare gave me pause. He probably would have blogged about sold-out houses and how you should subscribe now for the next exciting season. Maybe he’d introduce the new members of the company. Kvetch a little about management undercounting ticket sales. And would our lives be richer for it? Probably not.

    • Master of white space is an excellent description, Anne. Patterson is a writer for our time.

      Given Shakespeare almost certainly personally wrote very little of the collected “works” he was actually very much the Patterson of his time. A literary machine giving the public what they wanted.

  4. I’m just goingt to Ditto Charley on the Tolkien Patterson front and leave it at that.

    Now that Tomatoe soup, looks good, and the kids do love it wiht their grilled cheese. I need to remember that trick with Evaporated Milk for Cream. I’ve nearly alwyas got some on hand for the occasional Corn Chowder. :}

    As To Shakespeare blogging. I highly suspect that it would be a blog group on how to produce plays that sell out to both the wealthy and the poor although I suspect Anne is right, but I still think it wouldn’t just be one person, but a few regulars, with guest posts form an actor or paton or two. *grin*

    • Some nice thoughts, Cathryn. Though I suspect Shakespeare and Dickens would both have found their niche in TV in the modern world. And of course Dickens would have mopped up the audio market single-handed!

  5. Shakespeare would write R & J as romance with a chick lit twist.
    King Lear = family saga. (The Kardashians of their time?)
    Macbeth = psychological suspense with an occult twist (those witches!). Julius Caesar = male adventure.
    Antony & Cleopatra = historical romance among the rich & famous.
    The Sonnets would be 99c shorts.

  6. You never read J.R.R Tolkien? If you don’t have the time to check out The Lord of the Rings, you should at least read The Hobbit. And yes, Tolkien was not a critic favorite during his time. In fact, as the Cracked article points out http://www.cracked.com/article_18645_6-great-novels-that-were-hated-in-their-time.html , many books that are revered and loved now were hated and big flops during their time.

    And what Shakespeare would’ve blogged about is a mystery. But I’m sure there would be a slew of people speculating the authorship of his blog and another slew of people analyzing it to every sentence.

  7. Oh Ruth, how very very clever you are. Shakespeare would admire you and I suspect laugh with you as well.

    For what it’s worth: I think Shakespeare was in his time the Peter Jackson of our time: the visionary who turned stories into something that excited the general populace. (see the amount of blogs/net sites given up to The Hobbit, LOTR and PJ films generally)

    I’ve been a Tolkein fan since the early 70’s when I travelled right across Asia with LOTR in my luggage. It weighed a ton and I read every word. Since then I’ve read every single Tolkein piece at least four or five times. To me he told stories like an ancient bard. Perhaps one needed to sit round the communal fire listening.

    As to James Patterson, I must pass for no other reason than his is not a genre I read with particular enthusiasm. The fact that he is pilloried might just make me change my mind as I love the underdog. That’s how I read Stephanie Meyer and Dan Brown…

    • Meyer and Brown both fine examples, Prue, of writers who ignored the “professionals” and wrote for their target readers, to huge acclaim.

      Although both Brown and Patterson write thrillers they are totally dissimilar in style and content, yet both compelling writers with huge audiences.

      As a writer steeped in the “correct way” of doing things patterson will make you cringe. Take off the author’s hat and come to them as a thriller reader wanting to be entertained and you are in the hands of a master.

  8. How wonderful that Mark has managed to fit MOST of my favourite things in the world in one post! (I’ll never fully convert him, as he hates football)

    Beer, wine, cooking/food, reading and writing!

    Like him, give me Enid Blyton over Tolkien any day. I have read all of the greats mentioned in the post. Complete works of Shakespeare (twice), LotR, The Hobbit and all of JP’s offerings; all so very different.

    Yet they all have their magic. Shakespeare is an acquired taste. I found that I had to LEARN how to read it, but once I had, I fell in love.

    Tolkien was a master storyteller, as is JP. Mark is right, he is a literary goldmine and always will be. True that he writes very little of his own stuff now (which I find quite sad as a writer who loves to write and would do so forever given the chance) and it is his style and formula that sells, but hey, this is a business now, not a craft. I still can’t help but download anything with his name on it, we can still learn a lot and hey, writers need to read, right?

    I also still love Stephen King and Dean Koontz. SK’s new book is by FAR his best for some time, back to his roots and Dean Koontz is still the master of his own genre (whatever that may be described as?).

    I think the message is clear. We can learn from any writer, good or bad, whatever the genre and let’s face it, with this new-found freedom to write what we like, with whom we like, let’s not close our minds off to ANYTHING! 😉

    Great post Mark!

  9. Well, dunno who that was, but some intersting points! 🙂

    For our American readers Saffi means that I hate soccer, but I hate all sports, so American football too!

    • Hate is a strong word; how about “stunningly indifferent?”

      • For American football and baseball and the thingy only tall guys can play srunningly indifferent is perfect. For English soccer, hate doesn’t begin to accomofate my loathing. 🙂

  10. Loved you post, Mark (he,he no surprise there since you mentioned me and my love for beer Italian-style!) but really it was a pleasure to read. With many others who commented here, I agree that Tolkien is tops as far as writing goes…just ask RR.Martin who’s obviously learned from him and raised it to a fantastic business (since that’s what successful writing seem to be nowadays, vide Patterson…)

    As to Shakespeare, what would he have blogged about? VVDDD (i.e.: violence, vengeance, disasters, distress and deceit) A formula? Maybe. But then isn’t everything humans do a formula?

  11. Thanks for joining us, Claude!

    But no thanks at all for reminding me, with your post, about how long it I last was in Italy, and how much I miss certain parts of Europe.

    I suspect this summer for my escape from the rainy season here I shall combine pleasures and tour across southern France and Italy and up into Croatia. And just maybe share one of those pastries with you in that bar on the way through!

  12. Thanks Mark on the shout out on my son’s recipe. He’s a fantastic cook, had to be with me as mom. It was learn to cook or eat a lot of peanut butter and jelly.

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